LET ACTION speak louder than words

France Albert René describes what his islands are doing to preserve the environment and promote sustainable tourism and other development, and calls for a new international programme of action for the coming millennium

The environment is more than an agenda for small island states such as Seychelles. It is a way of life and a matter of survival. Every day we wake up to the harsh reality of the level of the sea rising around us; every day our divers report new patches of coral that have been affected by global warming.

While industrialized nations and industrial powerhouses debate and procrastinate, small peoples who live by the coast have to contend with minimal opportunities to make their voices heard, let alone get a chance for redress. I speak here on behalf of these voices in the wilderness who for years now have been coming to international forums to stake their claim to a more equitable approach by the international community to their problems as the Earth’s problems – and who leave the table with their self-esteem intact but their hopes shattered.

Seychelles is a shining example of how one tiny speck on the planet has assumed its responsibilities for the environment and found itself paddling its small canoe alone in the middle of the ocean. Almost 50 per cent of the land area of our 115 islands in the south-western Indian Ocean is devoted to conservation. This has allowed our indigenous forests to mature and contribute to reducing the impact of climate change.

In accordance with the Climate Change Convention to which we are one of the founding Parties, we have carried out our Vulnerability Assessment. More than 90 per cent of our population live on the coastal strip and the relocation of this population away from the threat of sea-level rise and other extreme weather conditions would be a great financial burden for Seychelles.

With a little less than 0.8 square kilometres left of land available for cost-effective development, and the remainder protected as biodiversity reserves and for water catchment, our ongoing reclamation on the main island of Mahé aims to secure precious land on the basis of an environmental trade-off. Consequently, we have had to adapt to sea-level rise by increasing the elevation of this reclamation at considerable additional cost.

Controls and limitations
Every aspect of our economic and tourism activity is strictly controlled by environmental criteria, further limiting our opportunities for future sustained economic growth.

Our small nation has had to change many aspects of its way of life in order to comply with our primordial environmental mission. Our adherence to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has duly prompted us to restrain our people from centuries-old delicacies and craft.

However, as industrialized countries continue to expand their economic base they fail to reduce their emissions or commit resources for adaptation to climate change. In Seychelles, ‘sinks’ are over five times more than our total emission, meaning that we small islands will just have to sit and watch our sea level rise, contemplating the persistent threat of ocean flooding.

Seychelles and the Seychellois people are determined to remain active in the promotion of the Vulnerability Index as the United Nations-recognized formula for financial assistance to small island states. (For more information on the Vulnerability Index, see Measuring vulnerability by Professor Lino Briguglio.)

It is therefore timely that I call upon the industrialized nations to take note of what small vulnerable states such as Seychelles are doing to promote a greener planet. We have succeeded in crafting an inextricable relationship between our developing tourism industry and our environment, thus linking the destiny and well-being of our small population of 77,000 people directly with nature.

We have seen in this very forum strong advocates for the tourism industry to become a serious and active partner in this mission. Yet many of the major players of the industry continue to show little regard for the situation and particular circumstances of such ‘paradise’ destinations, often oblivious to the sacrifices the host people have to make in search of their chosen economic equilibrium.

Crock of gold
To this end, we have devised a strategy to remind our people and visitors that our only natural resource, our only ‘gold’ so to speak, is our nature.

The ‘Seychelles Goldcard’ strategy has been devised to reinforce our natural environment as the leitmotif of our tourism industry by inviting our visitors to contribute directly to the very element that constitutes their holiday and our existence and our environment.

Efforts to introduce the principle of this modest mandatory investment on the part of every visitor resulted in the clamour of the tourism industry, to the point where we have had to retract. Today, in the light of the resistance which often greets avant-garde ideas in this delicate field, we have revised this policy.

The ‘Seychelles Goldcard’ thus seeks to invite all our visitors, and other caring commercial entities that claim environmental friendliness as part of their corporate policy, to play a role in helping to preserve our little corner of the planet by becoming a ‘Friend of Seychelles’ and contribute on a voluntary basis.
We have crafted an inextricable link between our developing tourism industry and our environment

The concern of the people of Seychelles has been amply demonstrated by the fact that out of our very small and limited terrestrial surface, we have offered two of our most precious natural assets to the international community.

Aldabra, the world’s largest raised coral atoll, and the unique and endemic Coco-de-Mer palm forest of the Vallée-de-Mai on Praslin Island, are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and Seychelles boasts one of the finest marine national parks in the region.

International accountability
This gesture carries with it immense responsibility on our part but also calls for international participation and assistance.

Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, an earlier contributor to this forum, declared after two successive holidays in our islands that the environmental mission of Seychelles illustrated clearly how natural events in the wider world affected local situations and local initiatives.

In this very forum he has impressed on the international community the need and duty for all of us to take a share of this responsibility.

Today I add the voice of Seychelles and the Seychellois people to his and call upon the better-off nations of the world to seriously engage in a programme for the new millennium, where actions speak louder than words.

France Albert René
is President of Seychelles

Fred Hoogervorst/Panos Pictures

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Editorial M. T. El-Ashry | Let action... | The size of the problem | Looking good... | Vanishing islands | Whispers and waste | At a glance | Competition | Preserving paradise | Coral grief | ...biodiversity and beauty | Grassroots | GEF - helping small islands | Making a difference | UNEP - new books | Small is vulnerable | Measuring vulnerability | Exporting solutions | New friends in...

Complementary articles in other issues:
Carlston Boucher: No island is an island (Tourism) 1999
D.J. de Villiers: Beyond attractive destinations (Tourism) 1999
Meenakshi Varandani: Asking the right questions (Tourism) 1999
Terry Donald Coe: Small is dutiful (Climate & Action) 1998
Biologist Ana Strbenac: Seychelles views 2000